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Sixth racino could be back on table

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Court decision gives Racing Commission ‘a clean slate’

Copyright © 2013 Albuquerque Journal

With the decision by the New Mexico Supreme Court to forgo reviewing an appeals court ruling that upheld the expiration of a planned Raton racino’s racing license, the state Racing Commission is facing a decision on when – and even whether – to reopen the application process for a sixth racino.

Commission chairman Rob Doughty III said Wednesday that the high court’s decision presents “a clean slate” for the five-member, governor-appointed panel, and an opportunity for the state racing industry to consider its future.

That course has not been clear for the past several years.

In 2008 Canadian investor Michael Moldenhauer won a four-way competition to open the state’s sixth racino and received a racing license from the Racing Commission. The following year, he obtained a gaming license from the New Mexico Gaming Control Board, which is required to operate slot machines at the track.

But he lost both licenses when he failed to complete the Raton facility in time to host live horse racing by the commission’s May 2010 deadline.

Moldenhauer appealed the loss of his licenses with both regulatory agencies and, when that failed, through the state courts. In recent weeks, both the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court backed the Racing Commission and the Gaming Control Board’s decisions.

While the litigation was under way, the commission – which briefly opened the application process in May 2011 and received one application for a track in Tucumcari – was precluded from accepting, considering or awarding a sixth racino license.

When the state renegotiated its tribal gaming compacts in 2007, it agreed to cap the number of racinos at six for the duration of the agreements, to the year 2037.

New Mexico has racinos in Sunland Park, Zia Park in Hobbs, the Downs at Albuquerque, which is about to complete a new multimillion-dollar casino, Ruidoso Downs and SunRay Park near Farmington.

“I think that there needs to be some open debate on what the industry wants, including whether the industry wants a sixth racino at this time,” Doughty said, noting that he was speaking as chairman and not for the other commission members.

“I’m going to suggest that we step back now and ask the racing industry and other interested parties” to determine a way forward, he said.

Pending input from the other commissioners, Doughty said he might ask that the commission – possibly at its June 27 meeting – to schedule a public forum on the issue prior to its July meeting.

“After we take that public comment, the commission could then decide whether to move forward with reopening the application process for a sixth racino,” he said.

At least four groups – one each in Tucumcari, Raton and Lordsburg as well as Penn National Gaming, which owns Zia Park in Hobbs – have expressed interest in applying for the state’s sixth racino license should the Racing Commission reopen the application process.

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